Yachting: Doves and streamers as Cup opens but infighting not far from surface

By Dana Johannsen

On the day on which the United States fervently celebrates its freedom, the 34th America's Cup was officially opened in typically over-the-top fashion.

All four teams competing in the "Summer of Racing" took part in the two-hour ceremony, with their arrival on stage preceded by a cultural performance from their home countries.

"The America's Cup is a celebration of sport and culture after all," as one of the uber-positive MCs told us, to derisive laughter from the media contingent.

Then came the grand finale: the paper streamers were shot from air guns, a flock of white doves was released and Beethoven's Ode to Joy rang out around the America's Cup village.

Some wondered if the white doves - a symbol of peace - were an ironic touch.

But the bitter in-fighting between the teams during the past week was pushed to one side for the day.

However, unrest was never far from the surface.

With regatta director Iain Murray's threats to can the event dominating yesterday's headlines, there was the question of whether the glamorous opening ceremony would all be for nothing.

Murray warns that the regatta's marine event permit will be jeopardised if Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa's protests are upheld by the jury on Tuesday.

Most believe it is typical pre-event posturing from the regatta director, but only time will tell.

America's Cup organisers have already seen off a different kind of protest.

Over the past few days the local carpenters' union has been picketing the event village on the San Francisco waterfront, protesting that members have been given fewer jobs, with organisers opting for cheap out-of-town labour.

But they were curiously absent on the opening day of the event.

The message may have been lost on passing tourists, but many of the locals have mixed feelings about the Cup.

Some believe it will provide a strong boost to the economy. But the world's premier sailing event also comes across as an exclusive affair for billionaires.

There was certainly an element of elitism to yesterday's proceedings, with VIPs from the sponsors' brands sipping champagne from tables in front of the main stage, while the fans packed into the bleacher seating baked in the scorching heat.

One part of the ceremony that did hit the right note was the moving video tribute to Artemis sailor and British Olympian Andrew Simpson, who died on San Francisco Bay two months ago in a training accident.

With the Swedish team still coming to grips with the tragedy the emotion of the occasion was evident, with many of the crew reduced to tears, while others put their arms around one another.

Later on stage, Artemis skipper Iain Percy, a close friend of Simpson, thanked the crowd for their support.

"It was obviously a terrible accident, but we are determined to get back on the water," Percysaid.

Some of the biggest cheers of the day were reserved for Team New Zealand, with a large contingent of Kiwi fans turning out to the opening.

"All this support, it's just amazing isn't it?" gushed the enthusiastic MC, using her adjective of choice for the day.

"It's pretty cool," came the understated reply from skipper Dean Barker.

Fortunately for Barker, come Monday the racing will start and he'll get a chance to do the talking on the water.

- NZ Herald

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